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Former White House Adviser Steve Bannon Arrested In Border Wall Scheme

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Federal authorities have arrested Steve Bannon. Yes, that Steve Bannon - former adviser to the president, former publisher of Breitbart, architect of some of the early chaos of the Trump administration. Bannon and three others are now accused of an allegedly fraudulent scheme to raise money, supposedly to help build the wall - raising money to build the wall the president once promised Mexico would pay for.

NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is following this story. Ryan, good morning.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Give me some details. What did Bannon and the others allegedly do?

LUCAS: Well, these charges against the four were brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. And what they allege is that Bannon and these men defrauded hundreds of thousands of people who had donated to a crowdfunding campaign called We Build the Wall. This online campaign raised more than $25 million in all. And prosecutors say that the defendants repeatedly told donors that they wouldn't take a penny in compensation from the funds that were raised because all of it would be used to help build the wall.

But according to the indictment, that was false. Prosecutors say the defendants took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the money that was raised. Bannon, for example, they say, received more than a million dollars in donated funds and used at least some of that money to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own personal expenses. The defendants in this case each face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

INSKEEP: What are the names and, to the extent you know, the stories of the other three defendants?

LUCAS: Well, Bannon, of course, is the name that is attracting all the attention here. As you said, he ran Breitbart News, was a top adviser to the president. The other three are less well-known. One is Brian Kolfage. He is an Air Force veteran, was in the Iraq War. He's a triple amputee. He's a big supporter of the president. Prosecutors say that he received around $350,000 in funds that donors had given to the project. The other two men are Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea. Not a ton is known about those two at this point, but Badolato is known to have been an adviser to Bannon for quite some time.

INSKEEP: I guess we should just clarify what is allegedly at issue here because it is common, when an operation raises money for any supposedly charitable or political cause, they have certain expenses. In some cases, they're accused of having a higher and higher percentage of expenses not go to the actual purpose. But in this case, you're saying, according to federal prosecutors, Bannon and the others promised to take nothing. And rather than nothing, they took hundreds of thousands of dollars or in Bannon's case over a million.

LUCAS: Right. The public representations of what they said they would do with this money did not match what, in fact, they were doing with this money is in essence what the prosecutors are alleging in this case. Right.

INSKEEP: So having had these arrests, what happens now?

LUCAS: Well, these men were arrested actually in different places across the country. Bannon, for example, was taken into custody in New York. He is scheduled to make his initial court appearance today in federal court in Manhattan in the Southern District of New York. The other men were arrested in Florida and Colorado, and they are expected to make their initial court appearances, as well, but in federal court in those districts.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should emphasize, as with all criminal cases, this is an allegation. We haven't heard Bannon's response - guilty, not guilty, anything else - or from the other people yet.

LUCAS: Still to come.

INSKEEP: Ryan, thanks.

LUCAS: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas reporting today on the arrest of Steve Bannon and three others on charges of fraud relating to a proposal to build the wall.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.